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Twilight parking fee sparks repeal effort

Twilight parking at Smith Point County Park will

Twilight parking at Smith Point County Park will again be free. Credit: Newsday / Nina Ruggiero

Anger over the new "twilight" parking fee at two Suffolk County beaches has manifested itself in online petitions, a repeal effort by some lawmakers, and -- now -- a community rally set for Monday night.

The $4-a-car charge from 5 to 8 p.m. began June 23 at Smith Point County Park in Shirley and Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton Beach. County legislators, by a 12-5 vote, had approved an emergency resolution to allow the fee only four days earlier.

Parking at Suffolk's beaches, as much as $15 during the day, had traditionally been free in the evening, when concessionaires hold concerts and other events. But Parks Department officials say increased nighttime crowds have boosted county costs, and they expect the twilight fee to raise $90,000 through Labor Day alone for the cash-strapped county.

Still, the move has proved unpopular with people who use the beaches after work to stroll, sit and relax. More than 1,000 of them have signed an online petition opposing the fees.

"Families are already having a difficult time finding affordable entertainment," wrote the petition's sponsor, Estelle Albertina of Mastic Beach.

"Now the one inexpensive summer pastime has been taken away from us. Where does it end?" she asked.Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), whose districts include the beaches, introduced a bill last week to repeal the twilight fee. They said it will drive away residents who would otherwise spend money with beach vendors. Suffolk keeps a share of the vendor revenue.

"The increase in payroll and reduction in sales is going to outweigh any revenue realized by the fee," Browning said.

She also worried it was in poor taste to charge for evening parking at Smith Point, where the county keeps a memorial to TWA Flight 800, which exploded south of the park in 1996, killing 230 people.

The community rally is expected by Browning's office to draw more than 300 people. It is scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. at Smith Point Marina. Parking is free.

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